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(E) Image-building on a national scale
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  11/27/2003 | Media Watch | Unrated
(E) Image-building on a national scale

 

Image-building on a national scale


Jim Rendon NYT Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Simon Anholt, a British expert on branding, spent a career developing international campaigns for Coca-Cola and Nestlé. Now he is trying to put his image-making skills to work for a very different type of client: countries with struggling economies, like Croatia and Slovenia.
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"I was getting bored with spending my life making already rich companies a little bit richer," said Anholt, who is 43 and based in London. So this year he opened his own agency, Placebrands, with one clear goal: to help countries develop themselves as brands, with a carefully managed international identity, as recognizable as any consumer product. He has worked with Germany, Britain and New Zealand, in addition to Croatia and Slovenia, and is now in negotiations with Mongolia.
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"When it comes to economic development, everyone talks about transportation, technology and civil service," Anholt said. "No one talks about marketing, which is bizarre. Marketing is at the heart of what makes rich countries rich."
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Anholt said that by developing and communicating strong brand identities, countries could attract more foreign investors and tourists. That, in turn, could increase political influence and help a country's corporations grow.
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Next year, Finland will start a campaign to enhance its image as a center of high-tech innovation, with the hope of helping its technology companies fare better in the United States. Branding is also seen as crucial to many Central European countries, which have realized that their ability to compete for investment depends in part on how they are perceived by more developed neighbors like France and Germany.
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But while branding can help a country improve its communication with the world, it will not work if the country sends out lies or exaggerations, said Erich Joachimsthaler, chief executive of Vivaldi Partners, a four-year-old agency that specializes in branding. Joachimsthaler said that when working with Germany, he ran into a perception gap that is common in such efforts.
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His German clients wanted to portray themselves as a passionate, emotional, flexible people, an image that he said was "a whole bunch of baloney."
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Charlotte Beers, former chief executive of the advertising agency Ogilvy Mather, served for a year and a half as President George W. Bush's under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs - and part of the job was the task of selling America to the Middle East.
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Jennifer Aaker, associate professor of marketing at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, said that task was almost impossible. "One of the reasons that effort failed was because of the underlying product - our policies were not perceived as pro-Middle East," she said. "We failed to understand the media, the culture, even the language in that region. It is difficult to garner favorable perceptions of the American brand in that context."
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Working with countries can be exasperating. Corporations have top-down structures that require employees to get behind new projects and often have chief executives with long tenures. Nations have political factions, sudden leadership changes and vast bureaucracies. Furthermore, branding programs may be seen as superfluous.
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Many branding experts point to Japanese achievements as an example of how national and corporate identities can benefit each other. After World War II, Japan became associated with poor-quality products, but in the 1980's, with the emergence of successful companies like Toyota, Sony and Honda, the name Japan became synonymous with quality and technology.
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But to think that Anholt's branding efforts can do the same for Slovenian companies may be wishful thinking, said Desmond Lachman, an economist and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization based in Washington. Japan had high regulatory standards and a relatively large domestic market that helped its companies develop, Lachman said. Slovenia has a tiny domestic market. It will not become another Japan no matter how it is branded, he said.
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The New York Times

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